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Live and Study Abroad: Psychological Adaptation to a Foreign Country

While the borders between the states are getting increasingly more blurred and the planes do not manage to transport the flows of travelers, students and immigrants, people still face the same problems as many generations before them. Some complain about loneliness, others cannot overcome the language barrier, others feel unneeded in a foreign culture. When you arrive to a country for the first time, you enroll in the new university and meet with your new group, you feel euphoric. However, the fear of unknown may appear immediately after that. So, how to adapt to a new country?

Study Abroad

Cultural Shock

A psychological research suggests that, on a stress scale, moving to a foreign country equals the highest 100 points (for comparison, the death of loved ones is estimated at the same level). To describe the condition of a person who has just moved to another country, the American anthropologist Kalervo Oberg in 1954 introduced the concept of the «culture shock». The fact is that it is a radical change of everything: language, culture, style of behavior, history, geography, the circle of friends, etc. Proceeding from the theory of cultural shock, when being placed in completely new conditions, a person feels the conflict of old and new cultural norms. All understandable psychological and social factors that helped a person to adapt to society disappear, and instead of them there are new and unknown ones, which came from a different cultural environment.

The duration and complexity of each stage is a matter of individuality. However, there are almost no examples of 100% adaptation of an adult person. However, somewhere after the first five years, the meaning of the words «we» and «they» changes – and «they» now refers to your old country.

Difficulties in Translation

People who moved in the 1970’s and 80’s carried furniture sets and collected works of the classics with them. Neither the immigrants themselves nor their children have ever opened these books. The only value to be taken is knowledge of the language. The idea of somehow learning how to communicate on the go is wrong.

Without a language, you cannot watch movies and read books, that is why you are turned off from the cultural context of the country. Psychologists advise to start with the children’s books and songs because they contain everything that shapes the personality in the place you moved to. Do not hesitate to go to the bookstore and buy the most popular national tales. It is very useful to get acquainted with the pop culture: with comic books, cartoons, movies, music – this will give you a unique chance to understand the mentality of a foreign country.

You can possess fluency in a language, but as soon as the conversation goes further than «hello» and «a cup of coffee, please», you may feel confused and say no words. It may take a few months to overcome this barrier. Does this mean that it is not enough just to know the language well? Quite often, the problem is not in the knowing the foreign speech. Those who are embarrassed to speak in a foreign language are shy. With them, it is not the first time that such things happen – feeling stressed in the unfamiliar surroundings, even in their own language environment. In this case, the psychologists advise you to invent yourself an imaginary personality. In a new society, you have a unique opportunity to correct your image, play a different person and become better in your eyes and the eyes of others. For a shy person, this would be an interesting and useful experience that would help not only overcome the feeling of shyness, but also learn the language faster.

The housing Issue

When you first arrive to the unknown city, you may have to solve a lot of everyday issues from the very first minute, starting with the search for a grocery store and ending with the call to the plumber if you plan not to live on the campus of the university. Ignorance, when it comes to the most basic and banal things, becomes an extremely annoying factor and provokes an already intense stress. In addition to this, many newcomers feel uncomfortable without the usual things for themselves.

It is impossible to skip this stage of mastering a foreign country, but you can learn how to enjoy it. When moving to a new place, do not rush to part with the image of a tourist. In this state, you can not only appreciate the beauty of the city you came to, but also inquisitively and benevolently study its habits. While you are a tourist, you have the right to approach any person and ask: What is the correct way of doing this? Where do you buy these products? How can I call the master? Unlike the native inhabitants, the tourist is allowed to know nothing, but be interested instead. Those who are struggling with the separation from the usual situation, the psychologist advises him or her to bring things that are very dear to them. They will be the kind of anchors that create a comfortable environment for you.

Loneliness

Almost all of the people who moved to live or study in a foreign country put loneliness in the first place among the difficulties of adaptation. However, many of them spoke not so much about the absence of friends or loved ones, but about some inexplicable and dreary feeling that often visits them abroad.

All of us from experience that existential loneliness that is inherent in every person time to time, but in a foreign country, it becomes especially acute because people are outside the context of their own culture. We all belong to a particular culture, regardless of whether we like it or not. This is the basis of our personality.  Therefore, while being in isolation from own country, a person feels that he or she has no one to talk to.

In every culture, there are a lot of insider things that cannot be explained to a foreigner. When you come across a misunderstanding of your local pop culture elements, a heightened sense of loneliness appears. At that moment, it is time to board the plane and fly home for a short time or to meet people from your national community, listen to music or watch a movie in your native language.

Confused Student

The Loss of Status

One of the most difficult tests is a feeling of own uselessness and uncertainty, especially for those people whose social status in their home country was high enough.

This process can be compared with how a drug addict tries to stop being used to his or her addiction. If everyone gasped when you came inside a room in your home country and now this is not the case, if the usual levers of influence no longer work, then you feel absolutely naked and unprotected. In this case, you need to remind yourself that all your experience, knowledge, skills and achievements after moving abroad have not disappeared anywhere – it is just necessary to learn how to apply them all over again. It is very important to remember your experience of achievements in the past.

It is easier to survive the loss of status to those who have the experience of starting from scratch in the past. Even if you had to change schools often in the childhood, this experience can be useful. But there is an important element – it can only be used with a positive message. In addition to that, the situation of starting anew has a positive side: you can leave not only your achievements, but also all the mistakes made in the past – all of that just to create a new, improved image of yourself.

Homesickness

Quite early on, people begin to compare their lives before and after moving, and often not in favor of the latter. However, experts consider this position to be extremely unproductive. The most successful person is the one who resolutely rushes into the vortex of a new life, forgetting for a while about the old one. Those who are professionally or psychologically connected with the country of birth should not leave their motherland for a long time. Idealized memories of the homeland are a kind of self-defense mechanism against the failures that somehow find us in a new place.

A lot of things depend on the initial attitude. Immediately after the act of moving, there is a clash between your expectations and reality – and, more often than not, problems begin here, because it is naive to think that they will coincide perfectly. If a person feels that he or she is leaving all the most beautiful parts of his or her life behind, then everything will seem terrible and alien in a new place. Therefore, it is very important to create a safety cushion for yourself: study the culture, mentality and all the features of the country where you are going. Then, your expectations will be as close to reality as possible.

Packed Luggage

It Is No Longer the Same as Before

Modern technologies and the Internet have intervened and changed the nature of moving abroad. At first glance, it can be assumed that the ability to communicate via Skype and social networks, the availability of online TV and the media – all this makes the act of living in another country easier and more enjoyable. It creates a sense of the closeness of native people and native culture as if you did not leave your country at all. It is much more important and interesting to go on an exciting journey to study another culture and develop new social ties.

 

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